Foil fencer Samantha Catantan qualifies for Paris Olympic Games

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NOTHING, not even a hurting left knee and a point deduction for a red card, could stop Filipino fencer Samantha Catantan from realizing her Olympic dream.

Armed with iron will and a strong heart, Ms. Catantan turned back a taller, longer Sofiya Aktayeva of Kazakhstan in a gripping, gut-wrenching 15-14 victory in the women’s foil finals of the Asia-Oceania Zonal Olympic Qualifier in Fujairah, United Arab Emirates Saturday.

That unforgettable night at the Zayed Sports Complex sent Ms. Catantan to the quadrennial games as the first fencer from the country to do so since Walter Torres, now Philippines Sports Commission board member, made it that far in the 1992 Barcelona edition.

The Penn State star also became the 12th Filipino to book a ticket to the French capital next to pole-vaulter EJ Obiena, gymnasts Carlos Yulo, Aleah Finnegan and Levi Jung-Ruivivar, boxers Eumir Marcial, Nesthy Petecio and Aira Villegas, weightlifters Vanessa Sarno, John Ceniza and Elreen Ando, and rower Joanie Delgaco.

And it was a memorable one as the 22-year-old Ms. Catantan had to endure a point cut after she was assessed a red card for failing to return on her guard line on time and trailed 12-9 and a sharp pain on her surgically-repaired ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) that she tore during last year’s Southeast Asian Games in Phnom Penh, Cambodia when the score was knotted at 13.

After a medical timeout to address the issue, Ms. Catantan, still in excruciating pain, valiantly limped back to the piste, plodded on and courageously faced her Kazakh foe with what strength and power she had left.

It produced perhaps the most unforgettable moment in her life as she won two of the last three points to deliver a mammoth victory that reverberated back home to a country hungry for sporting glory.

The moment she realized she had already won, she fell to the mat, shed tears of joy and covered her face as a small but boisterous Filipino tearfully celebrated with her from the stands.

It was a conquest that erased all the heartaches and stigma Ms. Catantan felt after coming two steps short from making the Tokyo Games and missing out on a SEA Games gold last year in Cambodia after she tore her left ACL.

And now she’s back and on top of the world.

Interestingly, Ms. Catantan will join an Olympic field that included former national squad teammate Maxine Esteban, representing Ivory Coast who also made it through via the African qualifiers. — Joey Villar

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